CBP locks up Italian visitor for 10 days without charge
Nina Bernstein at the New York Times brings us another story of government immigration overreach.
He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was "a totally
girl," as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington's home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Virginia Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to , where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper. Alexandria, Va.
But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at
Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the . And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to United States Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to and had asked for asylum. Italy
Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit -- meaning
Las Vegasand the Grand Canyon -- eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out. Virginia
Mr. Salerno's case may be extreme, but it underscores the real but little-known dangers that many travelers from Europe and other first-world nations face when they arrive in the United States -- problems that can startle Americans as much as their foreign visitors.
Often the reasons for rejection or detention are a reflection of our comically restrictive and nonsensical entry laws.
Ms. Cooper, a copy editor for an educational publication, said she was in the airport lobby when an agent called to ask about Mr. Salerno's income and why he visited so often.
Many people overlook the national security risks posed by wealthy tourists who travel here frequently. How many double cappuccinos and Hugo Boss
"The border patrol officer said to my face that Domenico said he would be killed if he went back to
," she recalled, voicing incredulity that, in his halting English, he could express such a thought. "Also, who on earth would ever seek asylum from Italy ?" Italy
I guess there are a few bugs in the asylum screening process to be worked out.
Ten days after he landed in Washington, Mr. Salerno was still incarcerated, despite efforts by Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and two former immigration prosecutors hired by the Coopers.
"He's just really scared," Ms. Cooper said in an interview last Thursday. "He asked me if
has the death penalty." Virginia
Luis Paoli, a lawyer hired by the Coopers, said there was no limit on detention while waiting for an asylum interview. But even after officials agreed the asylum issue had been a mistake, Mr. Salerno was not released.
"Now an innocent European, who has never broken any laws, committed any crimes, or overstayed his visa, is being held in a county jail," Ms. Cooper wrote in an e-mail message to The New York Times last Wednesday, prompting a reporter's inquiries.
Less than 24 hours later, immigration officials intervened and arranged to deliver Mr. Salerno to Dulles, where last Friday he flew to
. Ms. Cooper, who said she was now considering moving to Rome , was by his side. Italy
Even this well-connected, white European, who enlisted the help of an influential Senator was stuck in a legal black hole for 10 days, and would be there still if the New York Times hadn't started calling.
Just think about the thousands of nonwhite, non-European immigrants without well-connected relatives who fall into this black hole. Some such immigrants are detained for years (one client of mine was previously detained for three years), and no one ever knows. Or if they do know, it doesn't raise too many eyebrows:
"We have a lot of government people here and lobbyists and lawyers and very educated, very savvy Washingtonians," said Jim Cooper, Ms. Cooper's father, a businessman, describing the reaction in his neighborhood, the Wessynton subdivision of
. "They were pretty shocked that the government could do this sort of thing, because it doesn't happen that often, except to people you never hear about, like Haitians and Guatemalans." Alexandria
I guess we're ok locking up low-income Haitian or Guatemalan migrants for months or years, or at least we've come to expect it. Wealthy Italians, though--that is shocking.
Anyway, no one deserves to be locked up for simply trying to come into this country for benign purposes. Once upon a time, Americans thought of liberty as a fundamental constitutional principle. DHS is out of control at this point, unaccountable to Congress or the public.
Mr. Salerno was still shaken. "In
," he said, "there are so many good people and beautiful people that don't deserve to be showing these terrible things to the world." America
I couldn't say it better.